PAWLET — Daniel Banyai said he will allow town officials on his land to conduct a site visit for a shed he wants to build, but only certain ones, and only if they agree to insure him and hire private security to protect him.
Banyai lives at 541 Briar Hill Road. For the past several years he’s been in a zoning dispute with the town over the Slate Ridge firearms school he’s constructed on the property. The town said he didn’t have the necessary permits to do so, prompting a series of court hearings culminating earlier this year with an order from the state Environmental Court for him to stop operating the school, tear down the buildings associated with it, and to pay the town $46,000.
Banyai has appealed that decision to the Vermont Supreme Court. Prior to that, the town sought to hold a contempt hearing, claiming Banyai didn’t shut down the school as ordered and has done nothing to comply with the court order.
Earlier this year, Banyai filed for a permit to build a shed, which he claims will be attached to his permitted house as an accessory building for storage. The permit was granted, but Banyai’s neighbors, the Huletts, filed an appeal, claiming Thursday that the shed application is for a building the Environmental Court already ordered removed.
Banyai’s relationship with town officials and his neighbors has been strained. State and national media have reported that neighbors feel threatened by his behavior and social media posts associated with Slate Ridge. State Police said earlier this week that town officials reported to them that Banyai had been recording video of the homes and business of Planning Commission and Development Review Board members. Police said Banyai told them he was recording video of the community, and determined no crime had been committed.
Richard Hulett Jr. said the DRB should request a site visit.
“Get up there and see what he’s got before we issue a permit,” he said. “That building has been ordered to be dismantled by a court, and he has not complied and isn’t going to comply. I feel we need to get up there and see what he’s got before we start issuing permits for a building that’s already there and has been ordered by a court to be taken down.”
Hulett is a member of the Select Board. He was elected in March, defeating Banyai in a race for a 3-year seat. Banyai insinuated that it was conflict of interest for Hulett Jr. to be speaking on behalf of the other Huletts. He also accused the town’s attorney, Merrill Bent, of authoring Hulett’s appeals documents.
Bent denied this.
DRB Chair Keith Mason asked Banyai if he’d agree to let the board visit his property.
“Select individuals that have not already corruptly violated my Constitutional rights or civil liberties, absolutely,” Banyai said. “You will need to add me as additionally insured on your insurance policy and pay for private security to protect me.”
Mason said the DRB will take that under advisement, and that it has not yet decided to ask for a site visit.
According to Banyai, he completed a satisfactory permit application for this shed and that the zoning administrator was right to approve it. He noted that his claim of having 261 feet of road frontage was an error, as that’s the length of the driveway.
Banyai said if there are any issues with his permit applications, the DRB should take a less adversarial role and assist him in getting things corrected. He claimed the DRB rarely denies permits and helps applicants comply with the law.
While he would not say what his shed will be used to store, he rejected claims by the Huletts that it’s a dormitory or part of Slate Ridge.
Bent said the main question for the DRB on this matter is whether or not the proposed shed already exists or not, and the easiest way to determine that would be for Banyai to allow a site visit.
“I’ve run into this issue before where towns have requested to do a site visit and the landowner has said ‘yes,’ but attempted to impose unreasonable conditions on the site visit to make it so that it won’t happen,” she said. “So if you really want the site visit to happen, which I think is the easiest way for you to prove this is a new structure, I think rethinking that position might be a good idea.”
Mason said the DRB would enter into a deliberative session along with Bent and Zoning Administrator Jonas Rosenthal. He said no action would be taken upon leaving the session, and a written decision would likely be released later.